The 2010 football season was an unusual one for the NFC West.
The two teams that were supposed to dominate the division, the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, faltered. Meanwhile, the two teams that were coming off of dreadful seasons, the St. Louis Rams (1-15) and Seattle Seahawks (5-11) fought it out for the division title.
The season may have ended with the Seahawks on top, but make no mistake, this division is wide-open. However, it appears the St. Louis Rams may have the upper hand and here is why...
Ladies love him, men want to be him
In 2010 the NFC West saw arguably the most inconsistent quarterback play in football:
-The Arizona Cardinals slumped through the season with a disastrous rotation with Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton all struggling to make it as a starter. Anderson was plagued by inconsistency. Hall, although promising, didn't appear ready to be an NFL quarterback. Skelton, a star at FCS school Fordham University, struggled after being forced into action due to injuries.
-The 49ers deployed a pair of Smiths to guide them in 2010. It didn't go very well. Alex Smith played like Alex Smith. Troy Smith, although effective his first couple games, began losing his cool with the coaches and eventually found his way back to the bench. It wouldn't be surprising if neither of the quarterbacks were on the roster next season and the 49ers quarterback situation is full of question marks.
-The Seahawks are faced with a dilemma. Matt Hassleback showed signs of still being a well-above-average quarterback last season, then he had his days where it was obvious his prime days are long-gone. Meanwhile, Charlie Whitehurst displayed nothing to suggest that he could be the quarterback of the future in his limited playing time (except for the season finale. I mean really Charlie!?! In your entire career you've never been of any relevance, importance, or use and suddenly you rip the Rams in the biggest game of the season? I hate your beard!) Regardless, the Seahawks have a big decision to make. Stick with the aging vet, or try and groom their hairy backup? (see what I did there?)
-The Rams though, oh, the Rams. All bias aside, Sam Bradford is the future at the quarterback position. Many scouts are now saying it is a near guarantee he will be elite in a few seasons and I honestly can't wait. It is nice to be the only team in the NFC West with a set starting quarterback heading into next season.
"NOT UP IN HERE!"...I can only assume that is what he said
Steven Jackson is a tank, Sam Bradford is the future and Danny Amendola is probably the only quick white-guy not wearing a Patriots uniform.
What really went unnoticed last season however, was the defense. Led by linebacker James Laurinaitis (I hate spelling that, I really do), the Rams defense went from being one of the worst units in 2009, to a solid one in 2010.
-Head coach Steve Spagnuolo is a defensive wizard. His blitz packages are some of the best in the league and he can always be counted on to have a tough, resilient defense.
-Former 2nd overall draft pick Chris Long finally played up to his potential, dominating the left end of the line in what was by far the best season of his career. If he continues his progress, it won't be long before he is considered one of the top pass rushers in football.
-Cornerback Bradley Fletcher has begun developing into a solid corner. If he also continues his rapid progress, he could form a solid cornerback duo of Fletcher and Ron Bartell.
-The list continues on regarding player progression. This is a very young defense that has plenty of room to grow and get better. The loss of OJ Atogwe hurts, but with the way the defense is growing this could all turn out to be a minor speed bump in the journey towards an elite defense. I'm not saying they will be at the Ravens' level any time soon, but this defense is going to be very good, very soon.
"No Tebow, I am god around here."
Meet Josh McDaniels. Now meet Josh McDaniels' bread and butter, the spread offense.
Anyone who watched Sam Bradford in college knows how good he is at the spread. Sam is to the spread-offense what Picasso is to the arts. He could conduct a symphony orchestra running it.
One year in the West-Coast offense? Yeah, I don't think that will change anything.
Now it may be true that no two spread-offenses may be the same, but they all follow the same concept: drop the quarterback into shotgun, spread out the field and rely on the quarterback's quick decision-making and accurate arm to pick apart defenses.
McDaniels is an offensive mastermind and should provide plenty of extra firepower via playbook to this team. Once Sam figures it all out, the offense will blossom into The Greatest Show On Turf 0.5 (let's be honest, none will ever be as good as that offense).
If I had putten a picture of Walt Disney here, would you have known the difference?
New owner Stan Kroenke is a very rich man. He also loves to see his teams win.
Where do the two connect? Well, expect the Rams to make a splash this season in free agency.
Shortly after the season ended, RB Steven Jackson said he would do his best to attract big names to St. Louis, citing that the Rams would be more appealing now that they have shown they are heading in the right direction. Meanwhile, the loss of OJ Atogwe has given the Rams even more wiggle room in the payroll.
Logan Mankins, Vincent Jackson, Steve Smith (Giants), James Jones and several other players are potential targets that could have a huge impact for the Rams next year. There is plenty of speculation and it is completely up to debate who the Rams will target, but with plenty of room for improvement, this could very well be an exciting free-agency period.
Kroenke also brings a whole different factor besides his copious amount of money. He seems to really care about this team. He appeared far more involved with the Rams and although he probably won't be turning into Jerry Jones any time soon, he will definitely keep a very watchful eye over St. Louis.
Donnie Avery: Knee injury, done for season
Mark Clayton: Knee injury, done for season
Danario Alexander: Knee injury, missed several games
Avery and Clayton are arguably the best receivers on the team. Alexander meanwhile has shown flashes of being a solid, physical receiver. Reports are that Clayton and Avery are recovering fine from their surgeries while Alexander appeared to be regaining health towards the end of the season.
It was no secret that playing with such a depleted receiving group hurt the Rams. Dropped passes and a lack of playmakers were two of the biggest problems last season.
When the new season starts, the Rams will have all of their weapons back and hypothetically speaking, if they add a big-play wide receiver in free agency, they could have a solid group of receivers next season.
I tried to find a picture of an actual Ram devouring an actual Cardinal or Seahawk...couldn't find one.
Any team that comes within one game of the playoffs only to badly lose it in the end are always left wanting more.
After the season finale, all the players had the same, left-out feeling. To come that close and have to watch their bitter rivals capture all the glory, it was demoralizing to say the least. If that isn't enough to drive them to a playoff run...well trust me, it will be enough to drive them to a playoff run.
To quote the great Will Ferrell:
"The forbidden fruit must be tasted!"
Every kicker deserves a shoutout...
Yes, it appears the sky may in fact be the limit for the 2011 St. Louis Rams.
There is no guarantee here. After all, the lockout still has shown no signs of ending.
However, when all the odds are stacked up the Rams are starting to emerge as the favorite in this division. Many picked them to beat Seattle in the finale last season, not realizing Charlie Whitehurst would come out and play like Peyton Manning (Honestly Charlie, what is your problem?).
We Ram fans have plenty to look forward to. Cheers! We have something to be optimistic about again!